Evidence against a dedicated system for word learning in children

Nature. 1997 Feb 27;385(6619):813-5. doi: 10.1038/385813a0.


Children can learn aspects of the meaning of a new word on the basis of only a few incidental exposures and can retain this knowledge for a long period-a process dubbed 'fast mapping". It is often maintained that fast mapping is the result of a dedicated language mechanism, but it is possible that this same capacity might apply in domains other than language learning. Here we present two experiments in which three- and four-year-old children and adults were taught a novel name and a novel fact about an object, and were tested on their retention immediately, after a 1-week delay or after a 1-month delay. Our findings show that fast mapping is not limited to word learning, suggesting that the capacity to learn and retain new words is the result of learning and memory abilities that are not specific to language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Vocabulary